Our opening two tracks trumpet a rousing flyover of the continent that is the focus of the music that follows.
Antarctica is often described in superlatives, being the highest, coldest, windiest, driest and least accessible of the continents. We imagine the exciting vistas of snow and mountains seen by the pioneers of Antarctic aviation as well as by today’s pilots flying their large transports to the continent, and by those in smaller aircraft servicing interior field camps.
This track takes flight over Antarctica in a balloon through the polar vortex.
Small weather balloons may be released daily by countries doing research in Antarctica, rising to a height of 20 miles and travelling hundreds of miles. They contain battery-powered radiosondes that measure atmospheric parameters for typical 1-hour flights. Data is eventually assembled by a small number of world meteorological centres and shared globally.
Other balloons, such as those used by NASA, may be as large as a football field and are used to test instruments and study cosmic rays, particles and chemicals of interstellar space in atmospheric and astrophysical research. These balloons use solar-powered instruments during flights of up to 20 days, assisted by the polar vortex, a nearly circular pattern of winds in the Antarctic stratosphere, providing a constant altitude and temperature during the 24-hour days of summer sunlight.
This track celebrates Antarctica’s huge, unending ice plains and mountain peaks that pierce deep miles of ice.
Antarctica is approximately the size of the United States and Mexico combined and apart from its coastal areas, is a polar desert. Its ice sheets, up to three miles in depth in places, cover 98% of the surface. In the winter season, the size of the continent can double with the freezing of sea ice around the coasts.
In this elegy we express sadness for the state of our world: for the destruction of the ozone layer, for the increased melting of the polar ice and West Antarctic glaciers due to global warming, for the plastics and garbage that are polluting the land, oceans and air, for wars, pestilence and contagions inflicted on people, and for the poverty, overpopulation and human greed at the root of much of these troubles.
This track is about the loss of glaciers in a warming world and imagines a time with the last remaining glacier, wherever it might be, likely in Antarctica.
Earth’s glaciers have been retreating since the mid-1800s but increasingly for the last 50 years as a result of climate change, and many may become extinct in record time. The largest glacier in the world is the Lambert-Fischer Glacier system in East Antarctica, 250 miles long and draining 8% of the Antarctic ice sheet. Another large glacier is the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, which has become the most vulnerable in Antarctica and its melting is of great concern for potential sea-level rise.
Here we take a whimsical wind instrument-based excursion underneath an ice shelf, as sea anemones sway in the currents and other exotic species drift by.
In 2010, scientists exploring the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf discovered a previously unknown species of sea anemone under the ice shelf. Up to an inch in their contracted state, the invertebrates can stretch to three or four times this length when extended. Each anemone had 20 to 24 tentacles. The anemones were burrowing upside down into the underside of the ice shelf, with tentacles hanging down into the water. At the same time, the scientists also found fish swimming upside down, as well as crustaceans and worms, which used the bottom of the ice as the floor in their ecosystem.
In this track we visit endless expanses of sea ice and ice floes.
The surface of the water around Antarctica freezes in the winter season and melts in the summer, so most of the Antarctic sea ice only lasts one season and is relatively thin. Winter ice can increase up to seven times in area over that of summer ice, doubling the size of Antarctica. Sea ice is an essential influence on global climate and its bright surfaces reflect much of the sunlight that strikes the earth. Warmer temperatures, melting the ice, result in more energy being absorbed by the ocean surface, increasing its temperature. The annual sea ice also affects the amount of salt in the top layer of water and contributes to the conveyor belt effect of ocean circulation.
This track is an imaginary look at what might have been the Spanish-Latin influence in Antarctica, as we go back to the early days of Spanish sailing ships. After a courtly expedition send-off, the fleet travels through the unpredictable waters of the Drake Passage south of South America to the Antarctic Peninsula, encounters fierce storms and icebergs and finally reaches calm seas and solitude.
One of the earliest visitations of the Antarctic Peninsula may have been by Gabriel de Castilla, a Spanish explorer, in 1603. Leading 3 ships, he was sent from Valparaiso, Chile to fend off Dutch privateers in the seas south of Chile and may have been blown by storms as far as 64ºS, a southern record for that time. An Antarctic summer base, named after him, was established by Spain at Deception Island, a current popular tourist landing site, in 1989. A number of Latin American countries have had early and sometimes conflicting interests on the Antarctic Peninsula, particularly Argentina and Chile, which were original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty.
Antarctica has often been described in print, film and other media as an alien, cold and dangerous environment. In contrast, this composition is a declaration of love, respect and admiration for the Ice. We honour it with a musical rose that opens slowly and quietly blossoms and blooms.
Our closing piece presents the bleak, inhospitable environment at the South Pole. Those hardy people wintering over at the Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station not only have to deal with the extreme cold, but also with altitude sickness, extreme dryness and feelings of isolation during the nearly nine winter months when access and exit are impossible. Sunrise in spring is an eagerly-awaited event.
The South Pole average monthly temperatures range from a summery -26ºC (-15ºF) to lower than -63ºC (-82ºF) in winter. The coldest temperature on earth ever directly recorded was in Antarctica at Russia’s Vostok Station in 1983 at -89.2ºC (-128.6ºF). Remote sensing satellite measurements in 2010 measured near-surface temperatures of approximately -93ºC (-136ºF) on the East Antarctic Plateau.
Musical compositions by Valmar Kurol & Michael Stibor, ©2021
Photographs and track notes by Valmar Kurol
Album graphics by Michael Valcenat